Holy Spirit Interactive
Friday, May 25, 2018
Inside Holy Spirit Interactive

The Eucharist

Live What You Pray

by Fr. Erasto Fernandez

The universal experience of priests and people celebrating Eucharist seems to be that the Eucharistic Prayer (EP) is the one prayer that is prayed with the least devotion and the greatest speed. Part of the reason for this perhaps, is that it is the prayer that is used almost everyday and so naturally routine easily sets in. Besides, the theology it contains is so densely packed in a minimum of words and phrases that many could easily miss its richness in their hurried recital of the prayer each day. If we wish to extract and relish the hidden wealth of each EP, we would need to spend time reflecting and praying over it. We also need to explain its meaning to the assembly from time to time, so that their participation can become personal and wholehearted. All the three acclamations that the people have as responses, are really shouts of approval, commands to the Celebrant to go ahead with this prayer, bursts of a single-hearted song of praise and thanksgiving.

It is worth noting that the entire framework of the EP is dialogical: the back-and-forth between leader and community is crucial. Posture, eyes, gestures, joyful singing of the acclamations: every one of these counts if the prayer is to become the prayer of the Assembly. Though the spoken words of the prayer are familiar, the challenge before us is to hear them and echo them as our own prayer so that the final 'amen' is real and meaningful. In order that this objective may be more easily achieved in every celebration, we offer the reflections that follow. These are not intended to be exhaustive, but are offered more as suggestions to get each person thinking and hence praying better, as also to lead to a discovery of its riches for oneself.


The Roman Canon, as the EP I is generally known, is about sixteen hundred years old. It appeared towards the end of the 4th century in its basic form, though it admitted several additions in later years. When Pope Damasus promoted the latinization of the liturgy, he did not advocate a word-for-word translation from the Greek. Rather, the latinized liturgy was a new creation, dominated largely by the Roman style and spirit.

When compared with the Anaphora of St. Hypollitus (EP II) of Greek style, two points stand out: (a) the smooth flow of ideas and language so characteristic of the Greek is no longer present - a number of insertions have crept in thus breaking the flow of thought (b) this canon is cast in a symmetrical, stylized form, revolving round the central and unvarying words of the Institution. The body of the prayer hardly contains any prayers of praise: these are relegated to the Preface at the start and the Doxology that comes at the end. Compared to EP II, it contains two major additions: the Holy, holy and the Intercessions. The Sanctus is the older of the two additions and gradually became fairly intricate in form; it became more of an acclamation that was sung by the people. The Intercessions consisted of petitions for offering, blessing and consecration - all integrated into the symmetrical arrangement of the Canon. However, it is noteworthy that these intercessions finally took up about half of the Canon, arranged in two blocks spaced out before and after the Institution Narrative.

Structure and Form

Contents and function Texts of the Roman Canon
E1: Praise in dialogue: Preface / Holy holy The Lord be with you … Holy, holy
D1: Transition and first prayer of Acceptance We come to you, Father…
C1: First intercessions: for Church, Pope Bishops, for the living First list of saints We offer them for John Paul our Pope…
B1: First formula of offering First (consecratory) epiclesis Father, accept this offering… Bless and approve this offering…
A : Double consecration: bread / wine (Exclamation and acclamation Anamnesis) The day before he suffered… Proclaim the mystery of faith Father, we celebrate the memory of Christ
B : Second formula of offering Second (communion) epiclesis Look with favour on these offerings… Almighty God, we pray that your angel…
C : Second intercessions: for the deceased For the participants, Second list of saints Remember, Lord, those who have died… For ourselves too…
D : Concluding blessing Through Christ our Lord you give us …
E : Praise of the final doxology Through him, with him …

Perhaps the biggest drawback of the Roman Canon is its artificiality: while structurally and aesthetically it can be somewhat satisfying, yet it is difficult to pray this prayer - and this has been so from the very beginning. Combined with this artificiality, of course, there is the obvious lack of praise, a deficiency that stands out quite clearly.

Again, while the Preface and Doxology do make up for this in some sense, yet the rest of the prayer seems almost devoid of content, particularly when for almost half the year the same preface was prescribed. Besides, the intercessions take up too much space in this EP, especially since the Prayer of the Faithful has already expressed most of the relevant petitions. Also, the saints mentioned do not really 'touch' the lives of the present-day assembly, as they are so far removed from their world of experience. The calling down of the Spirit both before and after the Institution Narrative is rather vague and the eschatological dimension practically non-existent. Yet most of these deficiencies have been eliminated in the Vatican II reform: unnecessary 'amens' have been deleted, the language simplified, the basics retained and made more accessible to modern sensibilities.


Compared to the Anaphora of St. Hyppolytus from which it is taken, EPII has a Preface that names the saving deeds of God and reaches a peak with the Holy, holy. A very brief transition prayer leads into the consecratory epiclesis and is followed by the Institution Narrative which is the standard format found in all EPs. After the Institution Narrative, the format of the Roman Canon is more clearly visible: the prayer of offering, the Communion epiclesis (calling down of the Spirit), the intercessions: for the Church and hierarchy, for the dead and for all present. These are made through Mary and the apostles and the prayer ends with the doxology and the great Amen. The smooth flow of the original is maintained, yet it also respectfully follows the basic structure of the Roman canon.

Again, in relation to the anaphora of St. Hyppolytus, EPII does not have the Father who works through Christ as the center of attention; the formula of offering is more like that of the Roman Canon than of Hyppolytus and the typically Greek tone and phraseology are missing. The Preface, even though it is provided, is nevertheless variable; the one prescribed does not give prominence to one single mystery of the feast being celebrated, but lists the entire history of salvation beginning with creation. Yet, there is no mention of the providential guidance of God of his people in Old Testament times. It has been remarked that EPII is more like a short 'formula of the faith' of the New Testament community. In fact, it is very much like the Creed recited on Sundays and hence it is recommended that it should not be used on Sundays so that unnecessary duplication is avoided.


Since the EP is the very heart of the Eucharist, it is very important to pay attention to its framework and meaning, so that it can be prayed effectively. Perhaps the best way to do this is to take its various sections and phrases as themes for one's personal prayer/study and to share the insights gained with the people celebrating. Remembering that it is basically the prayer of the community, we need to provide whatever would help them to pray it in their hearts together with the celebrant. And finally, we should never forget that it is a 'prayer' and not just a formula to be recited. The way we pray it should itself be a catechesis for the celebrating community. There is much that we can learn from it, even for our own personal lives and prayer - if we care to study it carefully and pray it meaningfully.

The secret of all prayer:
"Kawanna halleb - Attention of the heart!"

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